• Orla Grant
  • 6 min read

The community of Mulranny in County Mayo has come together to reduce their energy consumption, and change behaviour that will have a positive impact on climate change.

Carol Loftus, Chair of Mulranny GreenPlan Sustainable Energy Community (SEC), tells us about this vibrant community with a focus on protecting and preserving its natural surroundings.

Getting inspired

Carol is originally from Palmerston, Dublin. Her brother, Paul, works as a firefighter in Kilbarrack Fire Station, which is the world’s first carbon-neutral fire station, according to Carol.

From Mayo, Carol would often hear from her brother about the green initiatives at the station and one weekend when she was visiting Dublin, she asked to visit and see for herself what they had done. Another firefighter there, Neil McCabe, founded GreenPlan – an accreditation to secure a better understanding of sustainability and the production of greenhouse gases. A conversation with him inspired Carol to look at what she could do in her own town, Mulranny

Her first step was to  bring a few volunteers together and see how they could make local buildings more sustainable. “We spotted an ad for an energy event in Belmullet and thought we should head along,” she said. There, the Mulranny group met Ruth Buggie from SEAI’s Sustainable Energy Community (SEC) team and began to learn about SEAI’s Community network.

Mulranny members

Mulranny GreenPlan Group with Ruth Buggy, SEAI, mentor Orla NicSuibhne and others.

Shortly after, Carol attended another national event held in Athlone, where over 50 community groups came together to share experiences and learn from each other. This event really inspired Carol and her committee to do something.  

“We decided to call a meeting in Mulranny and advertised it using the line ‘Are you interested in saving energy?’. Ruth Buggie from SEAI attended that meeting and spoke to the attendees. Mayo’s local climate action officer, Laura Dickson, was also there and willing to answer any questions people had around energy and sustainability. “People were very interested, and we got a few more committee members that night.”

Carol works in Mulranny Tourism Office and that is where the first projects began. As locals began to notice the changes, more people became interested and the committee grew in numbers. “We now have seven steady members, and we have others who drop in and out – 10 in total. Nobody has a particular role; we all work together”. Carol is the Chair; there’s a secretary and treasurer and they host regular meetings and an AGM.

“We are ordinary people trying to do our best and help the community by saving energy. We don’t have a particular skillset, but we are very enthusiastic.”

A lightbulb moment

Carol was invited on an energy research trip to Germany with the Western Development Company. “It was really amazing to see because in Germany, I think, something like 34% of local communities have a stake in their energy. They have shares in their energy cooperatives“. She found that fascinating and got plenty of inspiration, which she brought back to Mulranny, including the lightbulb exchange.

Carol and her team hosted an event (the first in Ireland) in the local school and invited the Mulranny community to bring their high-energy bulbs with them and swap them for low energy bulbs. “Just to let people think about their energy use. It was a small, simple thing and we swapped 150 bulbs that day.”

Carol explains that an initiative like that is an ideal way to introduce your work to the community because it’s simple and people can understand it easily. It then started the much-needed conversation around other things that people could to do to save energy

Terrific tourism

Mayo's first water station at Mulranny Tourist Office.

The Mulranny Tourism Office is a community-run office, staffed by volunteers. The SEC carried out upgrades to it – new windows, doors, attic and wall insulation, and they changed all lights to LEDs.

They replaced their chimney with a stove and are fuelling it with an invasive species of rhododendron – a particularly problematic plant in the west of Ireland, where it prevents other native plants from thriving. “It gives off fantastic heat”, according to Carol who has been searching for a solution to the plant, along with fellow members of the Mulranny Environmental Group. “and we thought this could be an opportunity to use it as a biofuel.”

Mulranny is one of the locations on the Great Western Greenway, the very popular walking and cycling trail. On days with less than ideal cycling or walking conditions, the Mulranny Tourism Office offers visitors a place to dry off and warm up in front of its rhododendron-fuelled stove. The office also has an ongoing book exchange, lightbulb exchange and battery, paper and plastic recycling facilities.

They commissioned Mayo’s first water station for the office so visitors can refill bottles. The accompanying app tells staff how much water has been used and how many plastic bottles have been saved thanks to it.

“We know we live in a beautiful area and we want to protect it as best we can. I consider myself lucky to live here really. I love it.”

SEAI supports

Mulranny SEC has availed of the SEAI’s supports since the beginning, including mentors and consultants who are appointed to provide their knowledge to a project.

It completed its SEAI Energy Master Plan, which helps inform what types of energy projects are best suited to a community and what the possible costs and paybacks could be.

Carol hopes the first project will focus on improving the BER  of  residential homes in the area. Improving a BER means increasing the energy rating from say a D or E to B or even an A-rated home. An A-rated home is the most energy efficient. The home is well insulated and requires the lowest amount of energy to heat it. “

The group has carried out 15 BER assessments on local family homes in the village and they are hoping to avail of the ‘Better Energy Communities Grant’ in the coming months.  This grant encourages communities to identify actions that are needed and apply for funding to implement them, for example retrofitting homes to make them warmer and more energy efficient.

The long-term plan will hopefully see Mulranny implement renewable energy sources for the town’s businesses and residents.

Carol Loftus, Chair of Mulranny GreenPlan Sustainable Energy Community (SEC), tells SEAI about this vibrant community with a focus on protecting and preserving its natural surroundings. #sustainabletourism

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Award-winning activities

Mulranny has won several awards for its sustainable activities. “There’s a lot of different groups but we all work together, which is very important.” When asked how she’s managed to get buy-in from her community, Carol says “there’s a team, it’s not just me, and there’s a fantastic team involved in all sorts of sustainability projects.”

“We know we live in a beautiful area and we want to protect it as best we can. I consider myself lucky to live here really. I love it.”

She’d encourage anyone to get involved because you don’t need the expertise as SEAI will support your team with that knowledge. “You don’t have to build a wind farm to start off, just something small, go for it.”

Learn about the SEC Network

Listen to Carol's story in full on our podcast

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